Get to know your neighbor
A recent article in The Tech ["Student jumps off MacGregor," Oct. 2] described a tragic incident -- the suicide of a member of the MIT community. I later spoke with some other counselors from my Staff Development Program and the 12 of us agreed that the key factor in suicide is pressure. Pressure can be academic, social, and even parental. The other main contributor to suicides on which we came to agreement was the absence of a caring individual. Most suicides occur when there is no one there to help the individual. How many people do you know that appear to be alone?
There is no doubt that MIT provides a stressful environment for many students. It is also probably true that many students are under pressure from parental expectations. Many of you can relate to these two pressures almost without question. But then there is the added social pressure.
Walter X walks down the halls, eyes to the ground, while everyone passes him. No "Hello," no smile, not even a warm, "How are you doing?" No, Walter X is one of the many people who seem to be swallowed up in the system of everyday life here and have no way to ask for help or even communicate with another in a time of need. MIT has many of these people -- people who seem to slip through the cracks and are never seen. We may have seen Walter X one day, asked to borrow a stapler or a pencil, handed it back, and never noticed him again.
Win/lose situations pervade our culture. In the law courts we use the adversary system. Political parties strive to win elections and win points in legislatures. Debates are common at schools, universities, and in the media. Competing with and defeating an opponent is the most widely publicized
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aspect of our sports and recreation. A great deal of the pressure stems from the win/lose situations that
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are created in the classroom. Students strive to reach the "top of the class" or "outsmart" the teacher. There are many people here who do not know how to fail, or "lose," so when it happens, it can have drastic results.
The reason this is important is that it leads to pressure. Walter X realizes that his parents are really pressuring him to do well. He doesn't get along in his lab group. He is behind in a class or two. There is no one around for him to talk to or to ask him how he is feeling.
Recently, I received a copy of the following letter from a friend in Colorado:
A letter to the future
"leaders" of my school
bring the r/l margins in a bit, marie. -- pm
I've wanted to write this for a long time but belonging to the class of people I do it has taken me a while. I apologize -- the letter has been badly needed. Some people do not realize it, or maybe they just choose to ignore it, like they do us.
I am a nobody. I was never given the attributes that a leader possesses. We "nobodies" are the nation's future "silent majority." We are the ones who carry the majority of votes, then sit back to be led.
Only sometimes, we don't sit back. We timidly raise our hand to volunteer for a committee, if we haven't already given up trying. Usually we are passed over in favor of a "leader" type, who has been tried and found true. If we are picked out of the faceless mass of nobodies sitting in our section, we're supposed to feel privileged . . . and generally we do.
When we show up at a meeting, the only one of our kind, we find ourselves slightly out of place, and very uncomfortable. Those who try to make us more at ease, more accepted, will forever have our gratitude.
Now I am a senior. I will probably never have much of an effect on people, but if just one future "leader" remembers this, I'll feel somewhat useful and very gratified.
Please take a little time to remember us nobodies. It is true that most of us will follow our leaders out of cowardly habit, but we will remember and have a certain amount of affection for those who took the time to treat us as human beings, not just as potential voters, or even admirers. Those who can't even spare a "thank you" when we compliment them on some achievement or even some article of apparel, will be forgotten as soon as possible. And those patronizing airs may bolster your ego, but they don't go very far with a nobody.
This may, to some, sound bitter or trivial. I mean it to be neither.
Those "leaders" who laugh or ignore this, well . . . I feel sorry for you. You don't even have sense enough to recognize yourselves. I remain as always . . . anonymous.
Does that sound like anyone you know? Are there people that you feel may need just a "hello" or a "thank you?" If there are, or if you know of any, you should get to them soon. The author of this letter committed suicide six days after completing it. The letter was his way of asking for help. But anonymous did not receive help. If you think someone needs help, or if you know someone that seems locked in his room all the time, help him. Invite him somewhere. Take him to a movie, ice cream, biking, anything. It is important to let him know that he is not alone.
MIT students are at an advantage. There are many different people of different cultures brought together here. Do you know the person sitting next to you? People thrive on companionship. I challenge you to find out. Learn who the people on your floor are. Build friendships that you can really enjoy and feel comfortable with. Again, I ask, who is the person sitting next to you? I am not convinced you really know.
You might say a name, and describe how tall he or she is, and the color of his or her eyes and hair. But none of these qualities are what a person is.
A person is invisible activities.
Who then is the person sitting next to you?
The person sitting next to you is suffering.
She is working away at problems. She has fears. She wonders how she is doing. Often she does not feel too good about how she is doing; and she finds that she can't respect or like herself. When she feels that way about herself, she has a hard time loving others. When she doesn't feel good about herself and finds it hard to love others, she suffers. . . .
That person sitting next to you is the greatest miracle and greatest mystery that you will ever meet. The person sitting next to you is sacred.
I cannot stress enough how important it is that you try to meet those people that always seem to be left out. I have really enjoyed my visit here at MIT. For three years I have worked academically, and socially. I have met some wonderful people, and shared some wonderful times. I have made some friendships that are special in every respect of the word. You have an opportunity to learn some fascinating things about the people around you. Either you take the chance or you miss the chance. The choice is yours. Make the decision quick though; there is no guarantee on time. Live each day to the fullest and never feel sorry for what you have not done. If it is that important to you then do it today.
Finally, I want to offer a saying that I share whenever I close a counseling session. If you sometimes get discouraged, consider this fellow:
Pull in l margin. Ragged right. -- pm
He dropped out of grade school.
Ran a country store. Went broke.
Took fifteen years to pay off his bills.
Took a wife. Unhappy marriage.
Ran for House. Lost twice.
Ran for Senate. Lost twice.
Delivered a speech that became a classic.
Attacked daily by the press and despised by half the country.
Despite all of this, imagine how many people all over the world have been inspired by this awk ward, rumpled, brooding man who signed his name simply,
Leo C. Creger IV, a senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is chairman of the MIT Lecture Series Committee.
MIT has many of these people -- people who seem to slip through the cracks and are never seen.
Do you know the person sitting next to you? People thrive on companionship. I challenge you to find out.
Win/lose situations pervade our culture.